By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Pell City Attorney Laurie Mize Henderson is challenging incumbent Judge Alan Furr in the March 13th Republican Primary. The two candidates debated each other on Thursday, February 16th at the St. Clair County Republican Party’s Candidates’ Forum in Pell City.
Over 190 St. Clair residents jammed the meeting room of the Pell City Civic Center for the Republican candidates’ forum. The St. Clair County Republican Candidates’ Forum fielded a dozen candidates for the office of District Judge Place One, St. Clair County Commissioner, and St. Clair County School Board.
Judge Alan Furr said, “Over 18 years my practice, unlike my opponents, has not been confined to the district court. I have done everything from simple wills to high dollar embezzlement in federal court for corporations.” Judge Furr said that as a lawyer he has represented criminal defendants, done divorce work, handled civil matters, and has worked both as a prosecutor and as a judge in municipal court.
Laurie Mize Henderson said, “ninety five percent plus or minus of my caseload is in the district court.” Ms. Henderson said that she had prosecuted for city of Ashville, handled child custody, traffic, criminal misdemeanor, domestic relations, and child support cases as well as handled small claim civil matters. “I have done everything that is handled in district court.”
On the subject of alternative sentencing, Judge Furr said, “Sometimes the best programs don’t work until you have a mind change.” “We bring young people out of juvenile court to juvenile drug court.” Judge Furr said that a young person who gets in trouble with the law due to dependency issues can go to drug court. “We have some success stories and we have some failures. The failures go back to the juvenile delinquency program.” “I am for programs when program work.” Judge Furr said Community drug court is a different program some Judges sentence people there rather than to prison.
Mrs. Henderson said, “I feel community drug court is great. They have dropped recidivism.” “In my mind that it (community drug court) is a privilege.” Mrs. Henderson said that offenders who break the rules of the treatment program should “lose your privilege.” “I don’t believe in revolving doors to rehab.” Mrs. Henderson said that law enforcement has to go find the offenders when they leave the community drug court. “It is a privilege, when you mess up you go to jail,” Mrs. Henderson said. Mrs. Henderson was concerned that Community Drug Court was cost prohibitive for some people.
On the juvenile program Mrs. Henderson said, “I am a mother of 3 children.” “I am not naiive enough to believe that that can not one day be one of my children.”
Judge Furr said, “We do have a substantial number of people who reoffend.” The same people keep coming back.
On the state’s prison overcrowding situation Judge Furr said, “We are a breath away from the federal mandate.” “We don’t have enough (prison) facilities.” Mrs. Henderson said, “The overcrowding issue will not correct itself.” Both emphasized that the state legislature needed to deal with the prison overcrowding system. Judge Furr said, “The Legislature has to get a handle on this situation.” They said the prison system is at 177% capacity. 60 to 70% of those are there for violent crimes.
Mrs. Henderson said, “Community corrections and drug court are alternatives but at some point I am not really concerned about their comfort but rather about keeping people that are violent and repeat offenders off of our streets.” “There has to be a way to identify the real threats from who we can help with community corrections or drug court.” Mrs. Henderson said she expects to see more half way houses where those people can not leave.” “I definitely think violent criminals need to serve every day of their sentences My understanding of sentencing reforms is that there will be a fourth class of nonviolent offenders like drug offenders where the sentencing will be reduced.”
Both candidates were concerned about the amount of money the state was going to budget for the court system in the 2012/2013 fiscal year.
Judge Furr said, “The biggest problem we have got now is economics.” “The budget is not looking pretty.” “I met with Chief Justice Malone Sunday.” “A 25% cut is what we are anticipating.” “(St. Clair County) Circuit Clerk Annette Manning Hall just underwent a staff cut. When this budget comes out I don’t know where we can find another 25% to cut.” “We have computers that don’t work because the court system does not have enough staff to fix them.”
Mrs. Henderson suggested that a more aggressive collections effort might help. “The amount of uncollected fines and restitution in this county is staggering.” Mrs. Henderson said that the St. Clair County Court System had $1.5 million in uncollected fines, $1.5 million in uncollected court costs, plus uncollected restitution.
Both candidates thought that the law was still a good career field. Judge Furr said, “Back when I started my practice there was a lot of money to be made.” “Trial lawyers especially plaintiffs lawyers” made large amounts of money. Judge Furr said that the field is “not as lucrative as it was in the 80s or the 90s.” “We used to believe lawyers were insulated from hard economic times. People would get in a mess and then hire a lawyer to get them out of the mess. Now they can’t afford to hire an attorney to get them out of the mess.”
Mrs. Henderson said, “I am a domestic relations attorney. There is always a demand for divorce.”
The District Court Place One Judgeship became vacant when then Place One District Judge Phil Seay was appointed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to replace retiring presiding Judge Charlie Robinson. Alan Furr was then appointed by Gov. Bentley in November 2011 to fill the then vacant District Court Place One Judgeship. Alan Furr and Laurie Mize Henderson both have worked as attorneys in St. Clair County for several years.
The St. Clair County Democratic Party elected not to field any candidates for any office as most political operatives believe that the Republicans will dominate the general election ballot in St. Clair County because 2012 is not likely to be a good year for Alabama Democrats with controversial President Barack H. Obama at the top of the Alabama Democratic Party Ballot on November 6th. Unless independent candidates qualify to be on the ballot on November 6th the winners of the Republican Primary on March 13th will be the winner of all the offices in St. Clair County. All of the elected offices in St. Clair County are currently held by Republicans.